CES 2022 was surprisingly not a total disaster, despite a lot of big names pulling out of the glitzy show and the threat of a pandemic looming. We got a glimpse of a color-changing car, oddly cute robot, tablets that put a gaming laptop to shame, crazy-fast silicon from Intel, and a spaceship-like router with motorized antennae, among other marvels. But CES 2022 was also about phones. Actually, great phones, which offer capable hardware without nuking your wallet.
Yes, flagships with outrageous amounts of RAM and obscenely high megapixel cameras were missed, but CES 2022 was the show of value-centric phones. The kind of phones that sell by bucket loads without getting a flashy launch event and outlandish claims. Samsung, TCL, and Nokia were the brands that delivered such phones, and they will soon hit on shelves without an eye-watering price attached to them.
Here are a few that stood out the most.
Best overall: OnePlus 10 Pro
Technically, the OnePlus 10 Pro didn’t make a public appearance at CES 2022. But OnePlus has drip-fed enough details that we now know almost everything about the phone, from its divisive design to its top-tier internals. The specs are your usual 2022 flagship ingredients — Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 system on a chip, a 120Hz OLED display, and a large battery. Some notable aspects include support for 80-watt fast charging and 50W wireless charging, both under Oppo branding now.
The camera setup (48-megapixel main + 50MP ultrawide + 8MP) is unchanged, but they now come armed with a few imaging tricks. The ultrawide camera now covers a 150-degree field of view, while a new RAW Plus mode will deliver the magic that the new iPhones are serving with the Apple ProRAW format. A manual video capture mode has been added, while the Hasselblad mode works across all three rear cameras now with 10-bit color capture.
It’s quite evident that the focus is more on cameras and practical features that actually make a difference. Rivals are planning 200-megapixel cameras and 120W charging has already arrived, but OnePlus is chasing after a balanced experience. Let’s hope the price is right, and the OnePlus 10 Pro actually delivers. It has to, especially in the face of venerable rivals like the Google Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro. The OnePlus flagship will be out on January 11 in China, and a global debut will follow soon after.
Best midrange phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
No phone in recent memory has been as comprehensively leaked as the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, and even the company apparently stopped caring as well. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad phone. Actually, far from it. The Galaxy S21 FE aka Fan Edition is adhering to the budget flagship formula, and for the second year in a row, Samsung appears to have done a great job.
The design is clean and reminiscent of the standard Galaxy S21, with a bunch of neat colors to choose from. On the front is a 120Hz display, while last year’s flagship Qualcomm chip runs the business inside. The triple camera array is a familiar 12MP wide + 12MP ultrawide + 8MP telephoto affair, while a 4,500mAh battery with wireless charging prowess keeps things running. But the asking price is the real MVP here. For $699, Samsung is offering a near-flagship experience with four years of assured updates.
The $599 Google Pixel 6 might sound like a better deal, but it is available only in a few markets. The $799 iPhone 13 is also a competitive package, but it costs much higher elsewhere. For Android fans who seek a dependable phone without incinerating their bank account, the Galaxy S21 FE will always be a part of the conversation, and the Samsung brand value makes it a hot favorite, too.
Best unlocked phone: Nokia G400
Nokia has seen better days, and it is far from being a mainstream player, but the company continues to make compelling budget phones. The new Nokia G400, with a $240 asking price, has a few specific traits going in its favor. The latest Nokia-branded phone features a 6.6-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate, something you don’t usually see on a budget phone.
Qualcomm’s decidedly midrange (and old) Snapdragon 615 chip runs the show, while the triple rear camera system is headlined by a 48MP snapper. Another noteworthy aspect here is the phone’s software. We are talking about a pristine Android experience, sort of like the Google Pixel phones minus all the exclusive features. There’s no bloatware, and at least two Android upgrades are very much assured. HMD Global sells these Nokia-branded phones without any carrier hassles, so there’s the unlocked convenience as well.
Best budget phone VZW: TCL 30V 5G
The Verizon-exclusive TCL 30V 5G is a rather odd mix of surprisingly good and meh hardware. It offers a 6.67-inch FHD+ screen without any high refresh rate trick. The triple-lens array at the back includes a 50MP main snapper, but the other two cameras offer a paltry 5-megapixel and 2-megapixel output. A fairly large 4,500 mAh battery keeps the lights on, but disappointingly, it runs Android 11 out of the box.
Qualcomm’s entry-level Snapdragon 480 chip is in charge here. But the phone apparently focuses less on power and more on connectivity. This budget TCL phone brings support for the faster mmWave flavor of 5G, a feature usually reserved for high-end phones. TCL won’t say anything about the price, but it is going to be on the affordable side and will hit shelves soon with some carrier offers in tow.
Best budget phone T-Mobile: TCL 30XE 5G
Another TCL phone that is a mixed bag of surprises and letdowns, the TCL 30XE 5G offers tricks like a 90Hz refresh rate panel without a fat asking price. On the flip side, the 6.52-inch screen is capped at a modest HD+ resolution. The camera hardware (13MP primary + 2MP depth + 2MP macro) is strictly a budget affair, but an 18W charger included in the box somewhat sweetens the deal.
And 5G support is part of the package. The fast-vanishing 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card slot are here as well. Android 11 is again a disappointing aspect, but an Android 12 upgrade is likely not too far down the road. Price and availability remain a mystery, but an early T-Mobile exclusivity is a clear sign that this one will be sold at a rather attractive price to budget shoppers.